My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sam Jordison has packed his non-fiction book The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad with mindboggling facts related to our past and present, which he displays in countdown lists from ten to one, with the worst offenders left to last. The author must have carried out a tremendous amount of research both in compiling lists from scratch and in sourcing existing ones.
I love it when a book teaches me loads of new stuff in an entertaining way. The author’s subjective comments are often hilarious, maybe some of them tongue-in-cheek, but who knows? He enjoys making passing jibes about Brexit and Trump, although for him he’s showing amazing restraint on the political front! I didn’t always agree with his choice of worst things. For instance, I happen to be a great fan of Game of Thrones (no. 9 in his list of worst TV programmes of all times) and adored the movie Dances with Wolves (no. 5 in the list of worst winners of the best picture Oscar).
He has divided the book into ten main sections that, in turn, he divides into sub-sections. You may not find each one of equal interest but there’s something for everybody. I read the whole book from cover to cover, but struggled a bit with lists appertaining to sport. Also, I think there’s one too many lists dedicated to The Beatles, where just one would suffice. On the other hand, I’m quite tempted to check out “The Worst Duets in Pop History” on YouTube, especially as his footnote warns you against doing so. His list “The Ten Most Brutal Shakespearean Insults” has filled me with the desire to re-visit the bard’s works, following their past slaying by the school curriculum.
For me, the two most fascinating main sections of the book were “Bad Nature”, which includes the deadliest insects and plants, scariest human parasites, and most venomous snakes; and “The Olden Days”, which includes punishments in ancient mythology, the craziest Roman Emperors, worst Popes, absurd popular scientific theories, and worst medical procedures.
Ultimately, this book demonstrated what a miracle it is that the human race has survived for so long, despite… well, I’ll leave you to fill in the ellipsis by reading the book in its entirety. And when you reach the final sub-section “The Ten Most Likely Ways the Earth is Going to End”, you’ll be delighted to discover that humans could prevent five out of ten of them.
A highly recommended read.
Sam Jordison is a journalist for The Guardian and writes regular articles about books and publishing on their website . He’s the author of several bestselling books, including the Crap Towns series, Literary London (co-written by Eloise Millar) and Enemies of the People. He’s also the co-director of the award-winning publisher Galley Beggar Press.